The Damodar blunder

  • 29/11/1999

In 1855, the British government decided to embank the Damodar river in order to prevent flooding. With the construction of watertight embankments on the Damodar, the flood control picture started getting "brighter'.

William Willcocks, a British irrigation expert came to India in the 1920s. In a series of lectures, he said, "When the government took over the work, it thoroughly strengthened the left embankment. The East Indian Railway made a second bank. The Grand Trunk Road, which was always breached in old times, was raised higher and made into a third bank and the Eden canal, with five banks like five Satanic chains, bound the Damodar and doomed the once healthy and prosperous tract between it and the Hooghly. The area started facing the problems of malaria and poverty.'

In 1861, the government, for the first time, had to open charitable dispensaries to combat malaria in Burdwan. It was also forced to demolish 32 km of the right embankment of the Damodar, in order to reduce the high flood levels attained after the construction of the embankments. "This demolition yielded beneficial results. The fertility of the soil in the inundated area greatly improved by 1863,' says D K Mishra of Barh Mukti Abhiyan .

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